Top 5 Best Charles Bukowski Books You Should Read In 2021

Being a prolific author with a quite offensive writing style, like some critics speaking, Charles Bukowski was counted as one of the most influential voices in 20th-century American poetry. He was the owner of over 5.300 poems and stories. But there were many more, people said, that were written but lost during his lifetime. 

The truth is, even without those lost pieces, the number of Charles Bukowski’s works is overwhelming enough for anyone who tries to know him. Question is: Where to begin with Bukowski. I kept pondering about this one question for quite some time. And it comes to the list below: 5 best books to have a taste of Charles Bukowski.

Detailed: Best Charles Bukowski Books Reviews 2020

best Charles Bukowski books

Post Office is an autobiographical account of Bukowski's life. In this first published novel of his, people would meet Henry Chinaski – the alter ego of Bukowski – and follow his story when he drifted from postal service job to unemployment to postal service job again, then to unemployment (again). I like to recommend this one for people who read Bukowski the first time. 

Written about three weeks after Bukowski quitted his job in the Los Angeles Post Office, the book brings an air of sharp and hilarious style which the readers would soon find in many later works of Bukowski. It also makes a good greeting to Bukowski’s theme, subject and his unique way of seeing the world.

best Charles Bukowski books

The story of Henry Chinaski comes again. But this time is the long and lonely years of his youth. In this fourth novel, Bukowski brought back memories from the childhood years he spent in Germany to the high school years with his discoveries of women, alcohol and D. H. Lawrence. The finest novel or the best of Bukowski’s written works are what people said about this one. The thing that impressed me most is the crude and brutal way the author painted his own sketch; but there is still a thread of humor in all that, which defines Bukowski so well.

best Charles Bukowski books

The fame for his insight into the dark and dangerous life in depressed Los Angeles, this first short stories collection of Charles Bukowski consists of many weird and wild tales which he wrote for various underground newspapers and magazines. The subjects of those tales range from prostitutes to classical music. Like all his fiction, this collection is also Bukowski’s semi-autobiographical and was in anecdotal form. Each story is so short but each one would hit you hard as it did to me. It is still that raw, brutal and sarcastic Bukowski in a short form.

best Charles Bukowski books

If you want to know the man, I will say you should definitely come to this collection of poems of his. The topics are varied, including drinking, prostitutes, horse racing, daily life observations, loneliness, views on other writers, etc... Overall, it is a delving into his childhood years and the harshness and loneliness of it. I drank every single word. Bukowski wrote about ordinary things no matter how flawed it could be. He still showed his brutally honest view of the world, but, in this one, he also let readers have a peek into his more tender side which could be a bit strange to the reputation he did receive.

best Charles Bukowski books

Written at the end of his life, this one is counted as his most successful poetry collection. Once again, Bukowski shred his armor of vulgarity and depravity as he showed in most of his works and let readers see his fragile soul. Being the final collection Bukowski composed in his living years, this one sets an impression that Bukowski was bringing his whole life on record when he felt the touch of death coming close.

It tackles topics of death and immortality, illness, writing and literature, city life, war, and the past. It has the same entertaining, humorous and sometimes thoughtful words as we know the man, but poems in this collection was prosed more freely and passionately. Their voice is more pleasant but more consistent.

A Guide to read Charles Bukowski

The work of choosing the best books of a particular author is hard work, mainly because the taste differs from reader to reader. When making a list of the best works of Charles Bukowski, I aim my picking at the ones that typify his theme, his subject, his point of view, and, most importantly, his ways of delivering them on the pages. But the question remains secret. You would still wonder which book suits you the best. In order to solve this problem, I thought it is best for you to know more about the man himself, his life and his works.

Charles Bukowski Bio

best Charles Bukowski books

Charles Bukowski was born in Germany shortly after World War I, to a German mother and an American soldier father. At the age of two, he was brought to the United States. Bukowski’s childhood was a harsh one when he was abused by his own father, who believed in firm discipline and often beat him for the smallest mistakes, and boys and girls of his age for his bad appearance. At the age of 13, Bukowski was introduced to alcohol the first time.

In 1939, Bukowski began attending Los Angeles City College. But just after America joined World War II, he dropped out of school and moved to New York dreaming of living a life as a writer. 1944, he had been arrested and held for 17 days by the FBI on suspicion of his German birth. After failing to step in the literary world, Bukowski quitted writing for a decade and invested his time on drinking. This period of life then came to his semi-autobiographical chronicles with the main character Henry Chinaski – known as Bukowski’s alter ego.

From the early 1950s to 1960s, Bukowski dropped in and out of the Postal Service and continued to write again. After experiencing a near-fatal illness, he turned his attention to poetry and many poems were written after this time. He starts his professional career at the age of thirty-five by publishing in underground newspapers. In 1969, he became a full-time writer when accepting the offer from Black Sparrow Press publisher.

Bukowski died of leukemia in 1994, aged 73.

Charles Bukowski Works

best Charles Bukowski books

Charles Bukowski was the owner of more than forty books of poetry, prose and novels. Many of his works were posthumous. Although I have brought you two of his best novels, a short stories collection and two poems collections that made his name, there are more to explore and many of them receive the praise as fervent as the five above. Below is a list of other good pieces of this exceptional writer:

  • Notes of a Dirty Old Man (1969) – short stories collection
  • Burning in Winter, Drowning in Flame (1974) – poetry collection
  • Factotum (1975) – novel
  • Love is a Dog from Hell (1977) – poetry collection
  • Hot Water Music (1983) – short stories collection
  • The Pleasure of the Damned (2007) - poetry collection
  • Bukowski also had a number of screenplays and nonfictions, if you are interested in that field.

Final Thought

It is never enough to talk about this crude but honest writer. To make a conclusion, I would advise you that no matter which book you choose, choose to read Bukowski with an open mind and heart. Not everyone like Bukowski, many cannot fathom his words. His voice seems brutal, his view of life is vulgar. But I can assure you that deep inside he was a profound soul and you could find sympathy in many of his feelings and thinking. Some said he was the writer for the damned, I said he was the voice of sincere hearts.

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